Thursday, June 22, 2017

Roster Collecting and Roster Movement


First of all, I'm back to the keyboard after a week-plus, mini-hiatus.  Not that I need one, but I think that I have a pretty decent excuse:  recently, the wife and I moved into a new apartment a few miles down the road from our previous location.  This new joint is much larger than our last living space and, thus, we can now bring home our treasured possessions that had been gathering dust in a storage unit.  That unit, by the way, was in a third town; therefore, it took several days, countless trips, significant man power, and bribes of pizza and beer.  However, we are now resting comfortably in our new, humble abode and couldn't be happier.

In the interim, my cards had been living in a set of cardboard boxes, which were pirated from a local retailer.  Sidebar - thank goodness my wife worked retail for so long, as those connections saved us a ton on moving supplies.  That said, aside from all of my free time being sucked up by moving, unpacking, and redecorating, it's pretty darn tough to blog about baseball cards when all of your goodies are hidden away.

Of course, one of the first things I did when we got settled was to set up the spare bedroom for use as an office and - get this - dedicated card space!  For the first time in my collecting life, my cards and collectibles aren't banished to the corner of a closet or tucked away underneath the bed.  The space still needs some TLC, but I have my computer all set up, the internet turned on and my card boxes and binders all unpacked.  So, it's time to resuscitate Wrigley Roster Jenga.

Speaking of computers, one of the first things I saw on the web when I fired up the ol' Hewlett Packard machine was this Tweet:



Shane, from the fantastic, Red Sox-centric blog titled Off the Wall, decided to show off the massive binder which houses the pride and joy of his "Sawx" accumulations - his All-Time Red Sox Calbum.  Contained within this behemoth is a comprehensive collation of every man who has ever donned a Red Sox uniform - well, those of which he has a card for, anyway.  Does any of this sound familiar to you, at all?  Well, if you've been reading my blog for any particular length of time, it sure should set something off in your brain.  This is the very same concept around which my personal collection and blog are built around; however, my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection (CATRC) revolves around Chicago's north side baseball club, of course.

For years, I assumed that I was the only one in the card collecting community who accumulated baseball cards in this manner; I thought I was a lone weirdo.  I was always content to acquire one Sandberg, one Sosa, one Maddux, etc. etc. and found the challenge of getting as many different players as possible to be a rewarding and even natural endeavor.  Unfortunately, never did I ever, in all of my years of visiting card shops, collecting with friends, attending card shows, or in my early days of blogging, encounter another like-minded individual.  That is, until not so long ago, when Shane and I made acquaintance on the Twitter-sphere.

This blew my mind and I was overjoyed to discover that others like me exist in the collecting landscape.  It was just great to find out that I wasn't the only person in community who's brain was wired this way.  Fast forward back to this morning, just as Shane decided to give us a sneak peak at this companion compendium, my brain's wiring darn near short-circuited... the concept may, in fact, be spreading!






Hot damn!  Grand Cards (of the sadly, long dormant Grand Cards blog) and Kin (of Bean's Ballcard Blog & I Feel Like a Collector Again), welcome to the club!  Maybe we should all get matching vests or something...

All in all, I was also surprised that there weren't more dedicated team collectors out there giving this concept a shot. I have always found this pursuit to be a fun and different way to collect, especially for a club with as rich of a history as the Cubs.  It builds a certain familiarity with the rich history of the team and keeps me engaged with the day-to-day roster maneuvering and operations which occur.  I believe that the Red Sox, Tigers, and the Mountaineers would be just as fun to collect in this same manner.

At any rate, it's funny that these revelations should occur today.  After all, just a couple hours after I excitedly discovered that the "roster collection movement" may be expanding, I scrolled across another Tweet which provided some related news:



I may have been the only Cubs fan in the greater Chicagoland area whose biggest takeaway from this major roster shakeup was that Mark Zagunis would be making his Major League debut.  Sure, Kyle Schwarber has gone from World Series folk hero to regular season zero and Jason Heyward represents a major loss for an already reeling offense... but, NEW CUB ALERT!!!!

Luckily, I just so happened to have a pair of Mark Zagunis cards, queued up and ready to go in my prospect stock, as it seemed likely that he'd be getting the call at some point in 2017.




Hmmmmm.... sure looks like Panini and Topps bough the license for the same photograph in their 2014 prospect-laden products, doesn't it?

Zagunis was drafted as a catcher, but made the move to the outfield shortly after his selection in the draft.  This year. the 2014 third round draft pick has followed up a strong 2016 campaign with a .249/.399/.474 slash through 268 plate appearances at Triple-A Iowa this season, to go along with 11 home runs.  He was easily the most MLB-ready, corner outfielder in the system, making him a natural replacement on the roster for the "J-Hey Kid" and "Schwarbino."

Now the question is which one of these cards should I chose to represent Zagunis in my CATRC binder?  Bowman is the industry standard when it comes to pre-rookie cards and this 2014 Bowman is the very first card of his to hit the market.  On the other hand, the 2014 Panini Prizm Perennial Draft Picks offers a better look at his face and is quite shiny.  Do I go with the milestone card or the shiny object?  Decisions, decisions....

In the meantime, Joe Maddon and the Cubs sure didn't take long to make a decision about Mark, as he's already being inserted in the starting lineup:




Maddon and Co. have long had a track record for "baptism by fire" or throwing a rookie call-up into the lineup right away so that jitters don't even have time to develop.  Here's hoping that Zagunis announces his presence with authority against the Marlins tonight!

In all seriousness though, I do hope that Schwarber can work through his issues at AAA quickly and that the nasty cut on Jason Heyward's hand heals rapidly - both of their bats, if healthy and effective, would go a long way towards fixing the defending World Series Champions' current offensive woes.  However, while it comes with a steep cost, I can't help but be excited about adding another new name to the Cubs All-Time Roster and my corresponding collection.  I'm sure that this conflicted feeling is something that Shane is all too familiar with, when it comes to his Red Sox.




At any rate, into my binder one of those Zagunis cards will go.  As you can see, my gargantuan three-ringer is about the same size as Shane and weighs about as much as a small child.  Maybe it's time that I follow in Shane's footsteps and take some time to flip through the binder itself on Twitter or on the blog and show it off, page by page.  It is the pride and joy of my cardboard collection and something that I have been working on for more than a decade, so why not show it off, right?  If that's something that interests you, keep an eye open.

In conclusion, overall, I'd say that today was a pretty big day for my roster collecting habits.  Not only did I get a chance to add a new name to my marquee binder, but I also discovered that the concept might not be as odd and off the beaten path as I once thought.   There are others like me out there!

Reason 7,000,001 as to why starting a baseball card blog was a good decision.





Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Post is a Total Ump Show

An "ump show" is when one of the officiating umpires decides to showboat a little bit and take the focus of the game at hand off of the players on the field and squarely onto their shoulders.  Few things are more annoying to baseball fans; but, don't let this "ump show" scare you off, as I'm actually quite excited about it.  Allow me to explain.

Frank Secory was an outfielder who saw the bulk of his playing time come during the War Years.  With this in mind, sadly, that means that despite seeing action in five separate Major League seasons, taking 324 trips to the plate, and appearing in a World Series during that time, Secory never appeared on a legitimate trading card.  After all, Goudey was MIA for the vast majority of that time and the War Effort sucked up the majority of raw material for more important tasks, which created a nice, big black hole for cardboard during Secory's playing career.  There are many players from the decade of the 40's that have been giving me and my CATRC fits, including Mr. Secory.

Sadly, the former outfielder never made so much as a cameo appearance in any of the more modern retrospective sets, i.e. Conlon, TCMA, Renata Galasso, etc.  However, with that in mind, Secory is not completely without baseball card representation:




Once he hung up his spikes, Frank stuck around the game for another couple of decades as an umpire.  Thankfully, his fourth year working for the National League was one of the few where a major card manufacturer, Bowman, decided to show a little love to the most thankless profession in the game.  The iconic 1954 "Color TV" set included 30 cards dedicated to the MLB umpires, allowing for Secory's first and only traditional baseball card appearance and an opporunity for me to be able to cross his name off of my "needs" list. 

That said, his and all of these unique cards appear in the third, high number series of the set, making them a tad more scarce.  Furthermore, these umpire cards were understandably unpopular with contemporary children and were often pitched, with great disappointment, by kids who were hoping to pull Yogi Berra or Mickey Mantle.  As such, Secory's only card a bear to track down in my price range.




After years of failed quests at card shows and fruitless saved searches on Ebay,  I was thrilled to track down a copy of this elusive card for just a tick over five bucks - keep in mind, this is a card that I've often seen sell for 3 or 4 times as much as that price.  Of course, it comes with it's trade-offs:  a significantly softened lower-left corner, rounded corners all around, and some chipped edges.  Nevertheless, the surface is clean and I'm not looking for resale value here - it's still aesthetically pleasing and allows me to add another coveted name to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder.  As you might already know, that is, by far, my greatest thrill when it comes to collecting cardboard.

The back of his Bowman beauty gives us a little taste of Secory's background (he's Bohemian, eh?) baseball acumen, even briefly mentioning his time spent with Cubbies.  Even so, I'm left wanting more; so, let's take a deeper look into the story of one Frank Edward Secory.



Secory (and fellow, future Cubs) with the minor league Milwaukee Brewers in 1944.
Image courtesy of Borchert Field.



He was originally signed as a Detroit Tigers prospect for 1936 and eventually and made his Big League debut with the Michigan club in 1940.  However, after receiving only one, single, pinch at-bat in one, single game (a strikeout against Cleveland's Al Milnar on April 28th - a 11-9 loss), Secory was exposed to waivers.  The Tigers must have seen all they needed to see from that solitary at-bat, as the Tigs allowed the 27-year old fly-chaser to be claimed by the Cincinatti Reds, who promptly assigned him the minors.

The next season, while trying to impress the brass of his new franchise, Secory unfortunately fractured his leg while sliding into second base as a member of the Syracuse Chiefs, further hindering his development.  Once healthy, he did earn another cuppacoffee later in '42 season with the Redlegs; however, once again, Secory found himself quickly disposed of, after just two contests (no hits in 5 AB's and three walks) - he was sold to the old Milwaukee Brewers, who were then a farm club for the Chicago Cubs.




Secory during his years with my beloved Chicago Cubs.  
Images courtesy of Kevin Baskin on Pinterest and Historic Images.



After a couple seasons of regular playing time in the American Association, Secory's contract was purchased by the Northsiders for the 1944 season, where he would finally settle into a groove.  For the next three seasons, Secory was able to call Wrigley Field home.  He responded well, having a career year in '44, slashing .321/.387/.554 as a back-up outfielder and then getting a bit of revenge against his former club in the 1945 World Series.  In Game 6, with the score tied 7-7, Secory whacked a pinch-hit single with one out in the 12th frame; a pinch runner later came around to score, give the Cubs an 8–7 win, and send the Series to a game seven.  Who knows?  If the Cubs managed to seal the deal in that series, their most recent World Series appearance until last fall, Secory's name might be better remembered in the Windy City.

The Iowa native stuck around for one more season in the second city, after his World Series heroics; however, with the War over, playing time for the outfielder began to dwindle.  Mid-season, he was either sold to or placed on the waiver wire and claimed by the New York Yankees, who stashed him in the minors as depth and then again was dumped back on the Tigers partially through the 1947 schedule.  Secory never made his way back up the ladder in either either of these stints and unceremoniously retired after '47.  That said, even though his time as an active player was done, his life on the diamond was far from over.




Secory emphatically calls the Dodgers' Carl Furillo safe at home at Ebbets Field, August 5, 1957.



After calling it quits as a player, Secory found a second baseball life on the other side of the baselines - as an umpire.  Secory worked his way up the minor league ladder, much as he did as a prospect in the Tigers organization, first calling the shots in the Class-C West Texas-New Mexico League, then the AA Texas League, before eventually being purchased by the National League in 1952.  From there, the former Cub began a 19-year long tenure in the Majors.  While he was never more than a bit-player in the outfield, Secory was a big-shot behind the dish.

During this time on the NL crew, Frank set a National League record by umpiring in nine official no-hitters.  In case you were wondering, the record-setter just so happened to be Dock Ellis' infamous acid trip in 1970, where he worked first base.  Later, Paul Pryor eventually outdid Secory by working his tenth such game in 1978.  Further hats in Secory's little hat include working four World Series ('57, '59, '64, & '69), six All-Star games, and involvement in Jim Bunnings perfect game on Father's Day of 1964.  All in all, I'd say he had a much more eventful career as an umpire than he did as a player!



Secory and Casey Stengel have a little "discussion" at home plate in 1963.
Image courtesy of Getty Images.


And there you have it, the tale of Frank Secory - baseball player and umpire extraordinaire, as well as a welcomed new resident in my CATRC binder.  See?  That ump show was actually quite exciting, at least in my humble opinion.

The search for more obscure Cubs from the pre-Topps era continues.  Secory was one of my bigger wants, but the list of players who plied their trade pre-1951 that still remain elusive to me is quite long.  With Frank, I was lucky that he remained in the game for several decades after the close of his playing career and even luckier that a set of umpire cards were made during that time; obviously, I will not always be so fortunate when it comes to plugging those gaps.  It is a never-ending quest filled with vintage roster jenga, oddballs, and tons and tons of research; but, that's all part of the fun to this collector.  After all, the journey is almost always more fun than the destination, right?

For now, I will happily add Secory to the binder, cross his name off of my want-list and begin the quest for the next new addition.  Who will it be?  Only time will tell.

















Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It Ain't Easy Bein' Cheesy

A couple of months ago, Peter, from the wonderfully written Baseball Every Night blog, challenged the blogosphere to a little contest.  All one had to do was show off their favorite card of their absolute, all-time favorite player and share why that card and the person depicted are so special to you.  In return, everyone who participated was entered in the Random.org generator and eligible to receive a special, but mysterious gift from everyone's favorite Darryl Strawberry fanatic.  This prize was extremely "hush, hush," but we were assured that it would be something quite unique.

The turn out for Peter's challenge was impressive and, always looking for a good post topic, I decided to throw my hat in the ring, as well.  As a Cubs fan who grew up listening to Pat and Ron on WGN throughout the summer and who studied radio broadcasting in college, it was almost a shoe-in that Ronnie should become my favorite baseball player to ever take the field.  Combine those factors with his being one of my grandfather's favorites, my mother's favorites, his inspiring battle with diabetes, and his incredible generosity in giving back to the community and no one else stood a chance.

Therefore, with my player so easily selected, I too immediately knew which Santo card was my most favored.  In fact, it was the baseball card which almost single-handedly brought me back into the hobby:





Appropriately enough, it came as part of the "All-Time Fan Favorites" checklist - funny how that works out, huh?

After several years away from baseball (due to the death of my grandfather), paying attention to NASCAR almost exclusively, my mother randomly stopped in my childhood LCS and bought me this card.  It was this gift, this small bit of charity, which jump-started my interest in collecting baseball cards once again.  Thus, you can see the importance that this Shea Stadium image holds in my mind.

Well, lo and behold, my name came out on top in Peter's randomization and I won myself that prize which was shrouded in so much mystery.  I was darn near jumping up and down because I was so happy; I'm fairly certain that this is my first contest win since dipping my toes in the blogging waters.  Exciting times, indeed!





That said, as Peter made apparent before beginning the contest, I was going to have to wait a little while before receiving my coveted winnings.  You see, he had a little matter to attend to before he could put the package together and get it in the mail - celebrating his and his wife's ten-year wedding anniversary with a nice, long journey to New Zealand and Australia!  As he put it in his e-mail to me, "Go BIG or stay home, right?"  I'd say that certainly qualifies as "big" and as an incredible experience and I was more than happy to be patient while he and his wife had the time of their lives.

Then, as the calendar rolled into June, Peter sent me another message to let me know that they had made it back stateside safely and that my highly anticipated prize would be dropped into the mail very soon.   I began to watch the mailbox like a hawk, as my mind was racing trying to figure out what such a secretive prize could be - I did have a month to daydream on it, after all.  Lo and behold, that unknown prize landed on my doorstep this past Saturday and, unashamedly, I ripped into it immediately as I could no longer corral my curiosity.

I know what you're thinking at this point, "c'mon, Tony - what the heck is it, already?!"  I have been building this up quite a bit with such a long introduction, haven't I?  Well, as it turns out, you've already seen a part of it - the picture of the card above.  So, let's just zoom out a little bit so that you, the reader, can see what I saw when I tore into the USPS box:





That, right there, is a custom made, Ron Santo cheese tray!  I must admit, this is by far and without a doubt the most unique item that I have ever received in the mail or won in any sort of contest.  It's not even close.  As you can see, Peter took a copy of my favorite card of my favorite player ever and molded it into a bottle-shaped, glass cheese tray for my entertaining purposes.  This guy is a certified craftsman!

But, wait, that's not all!  What could be better than a Ron Santo cheese tray?





How about TWO custom-made, Ron Santo "All-Time Fan Favorites" cheese trays?  According to the pretty, pink "thank you" card which came with these artisinal beauties, Peter made one as a test run before completing the real thing.  In his ever present generosity, he decided that since both turned out great, he would just send both of them my way.  Now, I have one that I can use to slice up my favorite hors d'oeuvre AND one to proudly display on the wall of my new hobby room.  That's "gouda" news!

 *rimshot*






Seriously though, I inhale cheese.  I will take my wife's deli slices of provolone and just start munching on them if she doesn't watch me carefully enough.  I never thought I'd have an item which successfully melded my favorite snack with my favorite hobby, but here we are.

Also, you see, the wife and I are moving into a new, two-bedroom apartment this weekend and that second sleeping area will serve as my "man cave," when we are not hosting guests.  I am over the moon to finally have my own space dedicated to my eclectic collecting habits and even more enthused to have an awesome and unique new piece of wall decor for said space. 

As a further added bonus, our multi-talented blogging buddy also threw in an appropriate cheese knife to complete the cheesy package:




You might say, this baseball-handled cutting device is a "Swiss Cheesy Knife!"



My "dad jokes" are on point - I can almost hear your groans through my computer monitor.  The blocks of cheddar that will be soon be sitting on Ronnie's face aren't going to be the only "cheesy" things in the room.

Thank you, Peter, for hosting such a fun contest which brought the blogging community together and for the most interesting, unique, timely, and tasteful item that I have ever gotten through the mail.  I think we can all agree that you did not disappoint when you said that the winnings would include "a great, unique, one of a kind prize."  I cannot wait to put these bad boys to use - they will make for excellent conversation starters when my wife and I host company!

 For his efforts, Peter truly is "the big cheese"






Monday, June 12, 2017

Unpack Your Adjectives

There are many words that can be used to describe the veteran baseball card blogger known as Dime Box Nick.  Shrewd, for the deals that he manages to score in his thorough dime box digs.  Patient, for the time he takes to comb through the hundreds of trading cards contained within said disheveled boxes.  Kind, for the hearty packages that sends out to others, out of unprompted generosity.  Thoughtful, for the meticulous care that he puts into the selection process for those aforementioned mailings, tailoring them to the specific wants and needs of each fellow collector.  In short, Dime Box Nick is easily worthy of all of these descriptors.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, when I discovered a thick, yellow, padded mailer in my mailbox on Friday afternoon.  After dealing a long day of prepping the new computers for summer school, this was an exceptionally welcome sight.  What better way is there to work through the stresses of a long day than by sorting through new baseball cards?  Personally, I can't think of a better way.

Long story short, I was, as always, completely blown away by what I found within generous Nick's unannounced gifting.  It got me wondering, with as many adjectives as I could use to describe the sender, what descriptors could I gather from the dictionary and thesaurus to affix to the awesome cardboard he sent my way?  Time to put the ol' puzzler on top of my neck to work!




"Trippy"

Circa '97 is easily one of the most psychedlic, non-Pacific baseball card sets to ever hit the market; so many squiggly lines, wildly contrasting colors, obnoxious foil, and WordArt-worthy text crammed into a 2.5" x 3.5" rectangle.  It's so gloriously 90's, I can't help but love this Brian McRae gem - it's easily the most purple Cubs card in my collection.

Not to be outdone, this much more recent Ernie Banks, Cut to the Chase insert from 2013 Topps is haphazardly die-cut in an incredibly wild way.  So many edges and points... it's a nightmare for storage but a definite treat for the eyes.





"Majestic"

Stadium Club has traditionally been about the photographs and the the 2016 edition of the product was more than up to the task.  I don't think there's any other way to describe that image of Jorge Soler raising his fist in jubilation after smashing a home run into the Chicago night.   Even better, I do believe this image is sourced from Jorge's big-fly against the Mets in the 2015 NLCS - one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal series.  Nevertheless, it's a big moment on a big stage forever captured in my cardboard collection.

On that same note, we also see an elated Hector Rondon, overjoyed at the fact that he's locked down the series-clinching save in the 2015 NLDS - the first playoff-series win for the Cubs since 2003.  This was an already epic moment further enhanced by the fact that the win came at the expense of the detested St. Louis Cardinals, in their first ever postseason match-up.






"Off-kilter"

Oddballs are always a key ingredient in whatever trade package Nick cooks up - this one was certainly no exception.  Did you know that longtime Major League player, coach and current Philadelphia Phillies manager, Pete Mackanin, had a Cubs connection?  I did not until this 1989 ProCards single, commemorating his time as the manager of the AAA Iowa Cubs, fell out of the stack.  Into my "Coulda Been a Cub" binder Pete will go.

Meanwhile, how many baseball cards feature man's best friend?  The junk wax era produced some off-the-wall retail sponsored sets and this Milkbone Super Stars collection was easily one of the most unique.  I've long seen these "puppies" *ba dum tiss* pop up on the blogosphere and have coveted them all this time.  Now, I finally have one of my own to take care of... and I don't even have to walk it or clean up after it!






 "Lustrous"

There are no if's, and's, or but's about it - I'm an unashamed sucker for anything shiny and lustrous baseball cards are no exception.  As such, I was "blinded" with happiness to see this chrome Bowman Hometown parallel of former Cubs All-Star (remember that?  Seems like forever ago), Marlon Byrd included.  As an added bonus,  now I will always remember that the well-traveled Major Leaguer originally called Boynton, Florida home. 

One of the best insert concepts in recent years has been "Pride & Perseverance" - a set which payed tribute to players who have overcome disabilities and other incredible hurdles to star in America's pastime.  Jon Lester is honored in this checklist for his triumphant battle with cancer.  I have to say, the men being honored here are, without a doubt, deserving of a gold border.






 "Spirited"

 As in, a spirited game of cards.  This one is a bit of stretch, I know; nevertheless, I do feel quite "spirited" about their inclusion on Nick's mailer.   Melding playing cards with baseball cards is one sure way to get my attention; after all, I've dedicated an entire post to the topic, as they are among my favorite varieties of oddball.  These tributes to the original set of Topps baseball cards (1951) and the game card inserts found in 1968 Topps hail from Heritage and Archives, respectively, and both feature current Cubs hero, Anthony Rizzo.

Another adjective that might be used to describe the card on the right is, as the kids say, "on point."  Someone at Topps was clearly paying attention when they affixed "hit by pitch" to the Rizz, in this instance, seeing as Anthony lead the league in said statistical category in 2015 (30) and is currently doing so again (12 thus far).





"Glossy"

These might seem like ordinary, unassuming base cards from the junk wax staple that is 1988 Topps.  However, looks can be deceiving - Dave Martinez and Paul Noce are actually both examples of the set's higher class, twin brother, Topps Tiffany.

It might seem almost precious now, but this is what was considered premium in the late 80's - high gloss.  Accordingly, to this very day, the glossy parallel set is much more difficult to track down than it's underachieving brother and had been previously unrepresented in my binders.  Courtesy of the ever classy Dime Box king, this egregious slight has now been rectified.





"Esteemed"

Both of these cards pay tribute to the vast history of baseball, doing so in different, but still esteemed ways.

Current Yankee standout, Starlin Castro, is seen here sporting one of my favorite Cubs uniforms of all-time, a creme-colored look from the 1940's  Just look at those striped socks and tell me that these duds aren't the cat's pajamas - if you say otherwise, you're lying to yourself.  Combine this characteristic with the lush Wrigley ivy as a backdrop and you've got a wonderful homage to baseball history.  Meanwhile, Jon Lester pays tribute to cards of baseball past on this Fortune Teller insert from the most recent release of Gypsy Queen.  The look of these cards and their odd dimension are reminiscent of the tobacco cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.






 "New-fangled"

While the designs you see here are clearly aped from years long gone by, make no mistake, these hurlers both hail from the latest product to hit your local retailer's shelves - 2017 Topps Archives. The latest product is one that my LCS, Target, and Walmart have all been slow to unpack and stock; thus, these are my first samplings from the repetitive, retro-themed set.

Rob Zastryzny seems to be the designated rookie in Topps products this year, appearing in Archives, Inception and Series Two, thus far. It makes sense, seeing as he appeared on the postseason roster (even if he never appeared in a game) and had himself a successful debut trial (1.12 ERA in 8 games, 1 start) last year. This makes up for lost time, seeing as Zas has never appeared in a Topps or Bowman product before and his only mainstream card with an airbrushed college uniform in 2013 Panini Prizm. As such, I can now replace that ugly, black eyesore with a bonafide Chicago Cubs card in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder. Score!

Lastly, as happy as I was to pull Zas, Nick made sure to close out this adjective-laden bubble mailer with an unprecedented bang:






"Antiquated"
  
Ooooooooh boy - look at that vintage excellence!  Perhaps "jaw-dropping" would have been more apropos?

It would normally be extremely tough to top an authentic Post cereal card from the 1960's, especially one that features Chicago folk hero and baseball lifer, Don "Popeye" Zimmer; however, a beautiful 1954 Bowman the perfect one-upper!  It may be creased and a little soft on the bottom, but it's still a vast improvement over the bland reprint which currently reps Roy Smalley in my CATRC binder and is one of the oldest cards I've ever received in a trade.  This is really where Nick sealed the deal and made this mailing an all-time classic.

Also, for the record, the Post oddball also easily unseated Zim's previous representation in said binder, as well.

Like I said, this trade package was certainly one for the ages and I'm simply running out of adequate adjectives to describe it's total perfection, Nick's generosity, and my giddiness.  Seriously, my thesaurus' spine is starting to fail with how much I've been forced to flip though it.  It's going to be tough trying to craft a proper thank you, but I assure you that I will do my damndest!

 Today, I declare Nick to be both the king of the dime boxes AND king of the adjectives.  All hail.




Saturday, June 10, 2017

Nothing to Snort At

The eyes of the sporting world are currently focused squarely on basketball, as the NBA Finals between the evil empire that is the Golden State Warriors and the one-man show that is the Cleveland Cavaliers are ongoing.  Last night, the Cavs staved off elimination to win their first game in the series, by a score of 137-116 .  As of now, the California crew still leads Lebron and Co. three games to one; that might seem daunting, but I think that last year's edition (between these same two clubs in this exact same scenario) proved that no lead is truly safe.  Then, the Cubs followed up that epic comeback with a 3-1 switcheroo in the World Series that October.  Moral of the story - you just never know what's going to happen.

Anyway, this post really isn't about the ongoing Finals, nor is it about the National Basketball Association; however, it is about the basketball and yesterday's high profile match-up provide the perfect segue for the latest oddballs to make it into my grubby paws.

A few months back, everyone's favorite Durham Bulls fan, The Snorting Bull, noticed that he had a few cards that have rested comfortably on my want-list for many moons.  Well, I can now scratch them off of the list, because they arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon.  Is there anything better than coming home after a long day of work to a bubble mailer full of baseball cards?




Yes - that's THAT Tim Stoddard - the surly Major League reliever who intimidated batters from the mound from 1975-89, for the White Sox, Orioles, Padres, Yankees, Indians, and, most importantly, the Chicago Cubs.  For that latter club, he was a key presence on the beloved 1984 National League East Division champions, the club that broke a 39 year-long postseason drought for the Northsiders.

Of course, you probably knew all of that.  But, did you know that before he took the Major League bump, Stoddard starred on the hardwood for his college alma mater, North Carolina State?




Courtesy of the junk wax staple that is Collegiate Collection, a group which put out countless collegiate-based trading card sets in the late 80's/early 90's, Stoddard's basketball stardom will know be forever documented in my collection.  Plus, as you can see from the statistics printed on the back of his first card in the NC State set from 1989, he was a pretty good prospect, as well.

That's right, I said FIRST... Stoddard appears on this checklist three different times:




While his first card (#49) features a vibrant, color portrait, his second (#50) makes use of an action shot, showing him going vertical for a layup attempt.  Stoddard made use of his gargantuan size (6'7", 225 lbs) to add a little extra "oomph" on his fastball and to scare the crap out of opposing batters, but it certainly helped him out in his basketball exploits, as well.





While we got his full stat line on his first card, card number two gives us a little biographical background.  As you may or may not be able to read above, Stoddard and his 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game as the starting point guard proved to be an essential part of the Wolfpack's
 1974 NCAA championship.  That season, Stoddard and crew went 30-1 on their way to breaking UCLA's seven year-long run on top.

That said, what the back of this card does not tell you (and I'm surprised that it doesn't), is that Tim Stoddard is one of only two men in sports history to appear in both a NCAA Division I, Final Four basketball championship AND a World Series during their athletic career.  After all, he was a member of the 1979 AL Pennant winning Orioles.  The other man to pull off that versatile feat?  Fellow former Cub, Kenny Lofton.




Tim's final card on the checklist is another action shot featuring another layup, but at least we get a different angle, showing the full court in the background.  I mean, my basketball collection isn't particularly vast and is mostly limited to modern product; however, I'll be damned if that vintage action shot isn't wonderfully fascinating and unique, to me at least.  Tim almost looks like a super hero, with the rest of the players standing around the court in awe!



However, despite the fact that this card features my favorite basketball image, the backside of the photograph features a write up on his career on the diamond.  I mean, the last two cards dealt with and showed off his basketball career - couldn't we get one showing him in his NC State baseball duds?  I don't want to sound unappreciative though - I do love all three of the basketball/baseball mashups.

Over the years, the Cubs have employed the services of several versatile athletes - besides the aforementioned Stoddard and Lofton, former Cubbies Terrell Lowery and Steve Hamilton have appeared in March Madness competition.  Furthermore, Hamilton and Chuck Connors have appeared in the professional ranks of basketball, as well.  Plus, Delino DeShields has made appearances in slam dunk competitions, too. When it comes to other sports, Matt Szczur and Jeff Samardzijia have starred on the collegiate gridiron, requiring significant signing bonuses from the Cubs in order to lure them away from the NFL draft.  It just goes to show you, professional athletes are amazing specimens of humanity.




Maybe it's because I grew up in the era of Bo Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Deion Sanders, but I've always been fascinated with such athletic prowess.  Thus, in the recent past, I've decided that I'm going to collect cards that feature these cross-sport phenoms, a collection of which the DeShields Footlocker oddball and the Szczur UD retrospective you see above are also a part of.   These curiosities fall under the umbrella of my Nothing Major collection.  So, if anyone has seen one of Shark's Notre Dame football playing card from Hero Decks or Ernie Banks' celebrity golf tournament card from Upper Deck's 2012 golf set, please keep me in mind!




Back on the topic of Tim Stoddard, he's quickly become one of my favorite Chicago Cubs of the 1980's.  Besides the fact that he was a good enough athlete to turn heads on both the court and the diamond, Stoddard is also a local guy, hailing from nearby Hammond, IN, a town which worked next to for several years.  Additionally, Stoddard is also currently serving as the pitching coach for the local North Central College Cardinals (Naperville, IL), a NCAA Division III powerhouse.  As you can see, he's a pretty big name in this area.

Furthermore, as if I needed more reasons to like him, I didn't realize it at the time, but Tim plays a bit part in one of my favorite childhood movies - Rookie of the Year.  Perhaps you didn't realize that fact either.  In the kid's flick, Stoddard plays a surly Dodger pitcher, who has a bone to pick with Thomas Ian Nicholas' wunderkind character:




Yes - that role certainly wasn't a stretch for the big man, was it?

Thus, with all of that in mind, you can see how thankful I am to Snorting Bull for forwarding these basketball beauties my way.  Not only are they cool, oddball cards, but they feature a multi-sport star who just so happened to spend time with the Chicago Cubs and also just so happens to me one of my favorite Cubs of the 80's, for a multitude of reasons.  For that, I say thank you, Mr. Snorting Bull, and I assure you that I will get a proper thank you package in the mail ASAP, in return for your exceptional kindness.

Is there anyone else out there in the blogosphere also obsessed with multi-sport athletes, or is it just me?  Will we ever see such upper echelon versatility again or are we too stuck in our era of specialization?  Please feel free to weigh in on this topic in the comments section below.

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here admiring my new Tim Stoddard basketball cards.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Patience is a Virtue


Way back in the year 2010, the Oakland Athletics selected a young, college-educated right-hander in the 27th round of the MLB June Amateur Draft.  The lanky pitcher used a fastball that rested comfortably in the low-90's and a punch out curve to star for the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and attract the attention of MLB scouts during the previous four years.  Concurrently, this same draft pick also plied his talents on the national stage, as part of the collegiate roster for Team USA.  Despite his low draft status, the farmhand built off of these credentials and slowly began to rise up the A's annual prospect rankings and work his way up the long, minor league chain.

Slowly being the key word.




Eight years, an AA All-Star nomination in 2014, a move from the starting rotation to the bullpen and then back to the rotation, and two releases later, the tenacious and dedicated 28-year old Raleigh, NC native has ridden the roller coaster of professional baseball and finally made the ultimate ascent into the Major Leagues.

Who am I talking about?  More on that in a minute.

Yesterday evening, the Cubs announced that last year's Cy Young Award runner-up and college professor look-alike, Kyle Hendricks, required a brief stay on the new 10-day disabled list, due to a battle with tendinitis in his pitching hand.  The ailment is not expected to be serious and is more precautionary than anything; however, with Kyle's markedly decreased velocity readings being a recurring problem so far in 2017, it's hard not to wonder if Hendy's hand has been part of the cause.  After all, speaking as a runner who has battled with the tendinitis in his foot on and off for eight years, it can be a recurring problem.

This newfound injury opened up a spot on the Cubs' Major League roster, in the short term.  This roster move is what opened the door for minor league veteran, Seth Frankoff, to finally make his MLB debut.




Signed off of the scrapheap during the winter months, Frankoff had been released by both the Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers in his previous eight years on the farm.  However, the shrewd Cubs front office liked what they saw from his brief dalliance with the starting rotation, as part the Dodgers' Double A squad in 2016, and inked him as rotation depth.  Placing him in AAA Iowa to start the year, Frankoff rewarded his third franchise's confidence in him with his best professional season thus far, producing a slick 2.77 ERA in 55.1 innings to go along with 59 strikeouts.  

Apparently, his start to the 2017 campaign did not go unnoticed.

Now, he'll get his first opportunity to take the Major League mound, though he'll be coming out of the bullpen for the time being, as Mike Montgomery will take Hendrick's next scheduled start tomorrow.  Nevertheless, I think I can safely assume that Frankoff will take the trade-off of moving back to the pen in order to have his contract purchased by a Major League team.  Call it a hunch.



Frankoff with the Cubs during Spring Training, this past March.


In order to make room for Seth on the 40-man roster, the Cubs transferred Brett Anderson from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day, as the pitcher has yet to even begin a rehab assignment - obviously, his back issues will keep him out of action for much longer than 10-days.  Seeing as how he was like tossing gasoline on a fire when he was "healthy," I can't say that I'm super disappointed.

With all of the negativity surrounding Wrigley Field during this so-far lackluster season for the defending World Series Champions and, frankly, the shock and disgust attached to some horrifying allegations about one of their franchise cornerstones, a positive, feel-good story is more than welcome in Chicago, right about now.  It comes in the form of a late round draft pick enduring through sleepless, cross country bus rides, empty stadiums in back-wood towns, and terribly ill-suited pay in the bush leagues for eight, long years, beating the odds and achieving his dream of pitching in the Bigs.  Here's hoping he seizes the moment and sticks around for longer than a cuppa' joe.



Get better soon, guys!


In order to celebrate his long-awaited promotion, I immediately took to the internet to see what his cardboard presence was like; after all, I was going to need a Frankoff for my obsessive Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder, ASAP.  I did not have one ready to go since he was only signed this past winter and, to be honest, I never expected him rise above insurance policy status.  

Seeing as he wasn't a high draft choice nor was he ever an uber prospect, his cardboard footprint is not particularly large.  Outside of his minor league, team-issue singles (which always seem to be dreadfully and unilaterally overpriced), his only appearance in a mainstream card set appears to be as part of Upper Deck's 2008 USA Baseball checklist.  As I mentioned earlier, Frankoff pitched for Team USA in 2007.  In addition to his base card, Seth also appears on relic and with a certified autograph.

As you can see from the card which tops this post, I opted for an autograph, but it is not of the certified variety.  According to the Ebay listing, "SIGNED IN PERSON, obtained by myself, following a minor league game in 2012. Good clean signature. Signed in blue sharpie."  From what I can see in the scan, all appears to be as advertised.  But, let's take a look at it again, for good measure:




Knock on wood - everything appears to on the up and up here.  Plus, I highly doubt that there's a lucrative market for counterfeit Seth Frankoff signatures.

I probably payed a little more than this card is worth and maybe I angered the petty baseball card gods by posting about the item before I safely received it in the mail, but I was just so excited about another Cubs debut that I couldn't help myself.  Plus, I've made it abundantly clear on this blog that I adore minor league and collegiate baseball cards and this one certainly fits that bill.  Furthermore, I have relatively few signatures in my CATRC binder and anytime I can add a new one on the cheap, I will jump at that opportunity.  Lastly, I hope he proves me wrong, but I doubt Seth will be showing up as a Cub in Update or any other major product anytime soon; thus, this card could stick around for in his slot for a looooooong time.

Anyway, here I am talking about how patience is a virtue and then I immediately turn around and overspend on a trading card for a guy who had been called up just hours before.... the irony is so thick that it's damn near palpable.  I guess in both my case and Seth Frankoff's, the waiting is the hardest part and one of us deals with that fact a little bit better than the other.

Good luck, Seth!





Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cosplay and Cards

When I was a young lad, my friend hosted a birthday party at one of the local movie theaters.  Paul was turning 8 years old and the year was 1997.  Some big-time movies that I recall seeing on the big screen that year include George of the Jungle, Turbo: a Power Rangers Movie, and Home Alone 3, among other such cinematic classics.  However, that afternoon, instead of seeing any of that kiddie crap, we ended up seeing the twentieth anniversary re-release of Star Wars - A New Hope, my first exposure to what might be the most iconic series of films in American history.  It was in that showing that I sat back, jaw agape, and took in the world of Jedi Knights, light sabers, droids and space battles, for the very first time.

In the ensuing years, fervor for the franchise has only grown with the addition of the prequel trilogy, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One.  Nowhere is this phenomena more evident than in my adoptive hometown of Joliet, IL, where they annually play host to a city-wide Star Wars Day.








Each June, several square blocks of the downtown epicenter are completely closed off to traffic, while a street fest in the name of George Lucas' creations take place.  There's live, Cantina band music in the air, intergalactic-themed food, and every bit of Star Wars merchandise for sale that you can think of.  All that said, the best part of the whole event is the parade, where hundreds of professional and amateur Star Wars cosplayers march about the city-scape with a marching band blaring out the Imperial March.  It's truly quite the sight!




Once the parade has reached it's terminus, in the lawn of the hosting Joliet Public Library, the characters stick around in the grass for a "meet and greet" and photo opportunities.  My wife has an unhealthy fascination with wookies, especially everyone's favorite "extra furry bear," Chewbacca.  Thus, as soon as the parade was over, we immediately began to hunt down Kasyyyk-native, so that she could get a coveted snapshot with her favorite character.    It was during this process that I made an important, exciting, and completely unexpected discovery - most of the characters were handing out their own, personalized trading cards!




Of course, Star Wars and trading cards have been comfortable bedfellows for years - in fact, there were at least ten different stands set up at this event with vintage SW cards for sale - but, these oddballs were something entirely unseen to me before.  Above, you can see the ultimate cinematic baddie, Darth Vader, as portrayed by Kris Kajewski, of the Galactic Empire-themed troupe "The 501st Legion."  

This worldwide club  "is an all-volunteer organization formed for the express purpose of bringing together costume enthusiasts under a collective identity within which to operate. The Legion seeks to promote interest in Star Wars through the building and wearing of quality costumes, and to facilitate the use of these costumes for Star Wars-related events as well as contributions to the local community through costumed charity and volunteer work..."

Joliet employed the services of their "Midwest Garrison" for their annual festivities:
 


 
 
This group is kind of a big deal and had their own, custom trading cards whipped up to hand out to passing children and Instagramming adults at events such as this one and for autograph opportunities (as you can see on the AT-AT Driver card above).  After all, when you take this gig as seriously as these guys do, why wouldn't you?  The cards are professionally done and, in terms of quality, have the feel of a MultiAd minor league, team issued set. 

Though I love Star Wars and I love trading cards, I've never blended these two passions.  However, I can tell you that, after making this discovery, you better believe that I was running around trying to gather up as many of these oddities as I possibly could:





Here's a bunch more from the 501st Legion, including a lone wolf from their Wisconsin Garrison.

The Legion wasn't the only group of pro cosplayers who were hired for the event though.  Also present were the bounty hunters known as the Madlorian Mercs, who obviously hail to the mysterious Boba Fett as their inspiration:






According to their official website, "The Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club is an international STAR WARS™ costuming organization dedicated to celebrating the STAR WARS™ universe through the creation, display, and wearing of quality character costumes that represent the Mandalorian characters and culture from the STAR WARS™ sagas."

Forget the "Merc with the Mouth," these mercs are total badasses.  Look - Casius Ontius even has a flamethrower!

All in all, I was giddy as a schoolboy as I collected all of these character cards.  It added an extra layer of fun to the event (as if a Star Wars parade really NEEDS an extra layer) that came entirely out of left field.  Oh and while he didn't have his own card (womp, womp), during my travails, we did eventually get my wife her desired picture with a wookie.  He was finally tracked down in the nearby Joliet Area Historical Museum - another base of operations for the event.

While we were waiting for our turn with the popular furry creature, I noticed a folding table in the corner of the lobby that appeared to have stacks of cards on it.  I moseyed on over, expecting and hoping to find a cosplay card of the actor in the wookie suit - while that wasn't what I found, I can't say that I was disappointed with what those stacks turned out to be:






Star Wars - The Force Awakens cards!  Like I said, Star Wars and trading cards go back about as far in time as the franchise itself does.  With that in mind, these cards centered around the start of the new third trilogy, the design comes straight out of 1977, based on the set released in conjunction with A New Hope.

These re-imaginings, in the vein of Archives or Heritage, were originally distributed through Topps' popular Digital Card Trader App and, since I don't really pay attention to non-sports releases, I was unaware of them having made it to the physical realm.  While they didn't capture my fascination quite like the cards of the 501st Legion or the Mandalorian Mercs, I was informed that they too were free for the taking, so I grabbed an assortment and made my way back to the wookie line.

I was while flipping through my new mini stack, as my wife and I waited in line, that I was clued into the fact that there was "a disturbance in the force:"





Rey seemed like nothing out of the ordinary; but, when my eyes moved over the photo used on the latter card, I recognized the setting to be within the very museum in which I was standing.... what gives?  Certainly Lucasfilm and Topps weren't taking special photos in the lobby of the Joliet Area Historical Museum for use in their latest trading card products.

I immediately flipped the card over, in search of answers.





Aaaaaaaaand then it all made sense.  These Force Awakens cards were ALL made especially  and professionally for the Star Wars Day event.  In hand, they neither felt nor looked different than any Star Wars product you might buy off of the rack at your local Target - high quality work, sponsored by NuMark Credit Union.

Again, I was giddy for finding a second stash of oddball cards at this local event.  As you can see from the dates on the bottom, apparently they've been doing these cards for a few years now and I never knew about them, previously.  It was an especially unique touch that the backs featured statistics and information about the festivities occurring around me - look how much Star Wars Day has grown since it started way back in 2010!

Not all of the card backs featured statistics or information though - in fact, some were just downright "puzzling":




*Ba dum tiss*  That's because they were puzzle backs!  Unfortunately, I was unable to complete the full tile with the cards in hand, but it appears as though the full picture is a poster, of sorts, for the 2015 edition of Star Wars Day.

I got it over that pretty quickly, however, as my cardboard-related discoveries were somehow STILL not quite finished.  I noticed that throughout the event, several different Star Wars artists were set up at different corners and buildings taking part in the celebration.  While cool, I'm not really an "autograph" guy, as I hate waiting in line and making small talk.  But, my interest was piqued when I noticed something at each of their stations.  In order for them to sign autographs for the adoring masses, the Joliet Public Library (who hosted all of these shenanigans), had even more oddball trading cards printed up - these bad boys prominently featured the artists work:





Okay - now that's pretty awesome.  These aren't true art or sketch cards, as they use high quality scans of each piece to print on traditional cardboard, but I'll be damned if they don't look stellar anyway.  Of those I came across, my personal favorite was this caricatured interpretation of Darth Vader's tirade near the end of Rogue One.

As you can plainly see, on the backside we get a picture of the creative force behind each piece of art, said artist's favorite Star Wars character, as well as a description of how said piece was produced.  In this case Mr. Tampa inked Darth out on paper, by hand, before later coloring him on the computer.  If you like his work, more can be found at his Etsy shop here.




You'll notice that neither the Vader nor the vicious General Grievous interpretations are autographed and that's because I didn't wait in line to acquire them.  Instead, I simply found them strewn about the event confines, likely blown away by the wind or dropped by someone uninterested in their existence anyway.  For instance, I came across this Grievous at the local coffee shop when the wife and I stopped for refreshments; he was left, forgotten and lonely on one of the chairs inside. 

As it turns out, Jamie Snell is a rather accomplished artist.  Apparently, he's produced art used by Topps as part of their The Clone Wars product from 2008, as well as for use in other fandoms' trading card sets like Indiana Jones Masterpieces, Lord of the Rings Masterpieces and Heroes Season 2 Sketch Cards.  Maybe I should have waited around to get his John Hancock...




Lastly, we have this straight up rendition of everyone's favorite duo - Han Solo and Chewbacca.  In order to obtain this card, I darn near got myself run over by a horde of pedestrians when I suddenly stopped in the middle of the busy sidewalk to stoop down and pick up this abandoned piece of art.  I'll tell you what, I don't care what's going on around me, I'm not going to walk past a card on the ground, that's just ripe for the taking.  Hell, I usually don't even walk past pennies, so...

Plus, it has Chewbacca on it; thus, it brought a smile to my wife's face when I immediately handed it over to her to add to her blossoming card collection (mostly Garbage Pail Kids).  See - it was totally worth almost getting trampled by a heard of Stormtroopers.





Mikey Babinski is another guy who's done a hefty amount of work in the professional realm, illustrating comic books for DC (Wonder Woman, Shazam), Marvel (Amazing Spiderman, Deadpool), and Image, among others.  Furthermore, he too has an impressive resume of sketch cards in major products, as well - his work can be found in Star Wars, Walking Dead, Adventure Time and The Hobbit products.  According to his Facebook page, he's whipped up over 1,100 such sketch cards!

Joliet really brought out some big guns for the autograph signings!

It was shortly after discovering the existence of the art cards that our time at Star Wars Day 2017 was coming to a close.  We had a birthday party to get to later that afternoon and it was a half an hour drive back to our home from Joliet.  So, with another year of memories made, a picture with a wookie, several bruises from the immense, jostling crowd, a thick stack of oddball trading cards, and contented grins we made our way back to our vehicle and made our way back home. 






Now, as I said, while a consider myself a fairly big Star Wars fan and licensed trading card nut, I don't really blend the two worlds with my collections.  However, I do know for a fact that there is a handful of Star Wars card collectors on the blogosphere.  Thus, as giddy as I was making these finds, if you see anything you like in the above post, I'd be willing to part with any of the cards (except for the Chewy/Han sketch) - just leave a comment below.

Has anyone else ever attended an event such as this?  Personally, I've never heard of anything like this anywhere outside of Joliet, but my experience is severely limited.

All in all, if you know of one, you should definitely go to it.  I think I can safely say that this whole experience was "out of this world!"